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Part IX of a Series
by Dale L. Walker
JACK LONDON'S third published book, Children of the Frost (New York: The Macmillan Co., September, 1902) is regarded by some London authorities as his finest story collection, calling attention to such memorable tales contained therein as "The Law of Life," "Nam-Bok, the Unveracious," and "The League of the Old Men," and the importance of the stories for their exploration of racial dreams and memory, a familiar motif in London's fiction. “Part IX of this series covers six of the ten stories in Children of the Frost...”
Part IX of this series covers six of the ten stories in Children of the Frost and some other of the fifteen stories London wrote in 1901.
"The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen" (The Youth's Companion, July, 3, 1902) might have been an appropriate story for Children of the Frost except that London included in the book "Li-Wan, the Fair" (see below), a story with an almost identical plot.
Twelve-year-old Hoockla-Heen has been having dreams all his life, haunting memories of vague events that made him dizzy, his eyes watery, his head feeling "fuzzy." Now he and his people are to journey downriver to see the white men of the Yukon and trade furs for guns, blankets and scarlet cloths. As he and his tribe depart, Hoockla-Heen feels the fuzziness and yet another worrisome feeling — "that something was going to happen--what he did not know."
The boy and the tribe reach Dawson and when an RCMP officer asks his name and Hoockla-Heen replies "Jimmy," the mountie opens the boy's shirt, sees the lad is white and calls for a man named Jim McDermott, a bonanza king who came to the Yukon in '94 with his son and a number of Alaskans. The Alaskans starved, two died who were left with the boy while McDermott and the others were hunting. Now, apparently dredging up a dormant memory, Hoockla-Jimmy cries out, "Da-da! O da-da!" whereupon father and son are reunited. The two soon go off to find Jimmy's mother, "the woman, fair and soft, the woman whom he often remembered, whose hair was yellow."
This slight story, with its impossible coincidences and awful dialogue was a perfect recipe for The Youth's Companion and its uncritical audience.
“...belief against killing, the product of Keesh's conversion to Christi-
A better, and bloodier, tale, and one with satirical overtones, is "Keesh, the Son of Keesh" (Ainslee's Magazine, January, 1902) in which London has serious thoughts about the consequences of the white man's influence on the Indian, his primitive life and life-beliefs. Here, Keesh, chief of the Thlunget tribe, bids for the hand of Su-Su, daughter of Gnob, chief of the Tana-Naw people. Gnob finds Keesh's gifts acceptable but calls attention to the suitor's belief against killing, the product of Keesh's conversion to Christianity by Rev. Jackson Brown of the nearby St. George mission.
Su-Su turns down Keesh's proposal but says he would be a good husband if he would forget his foolish white man's ideas and bring her no less than three heads. Time passes and Keesh remains faithful to his religion but brings the heads — those of her father Gnob, her two brothers and a rival suitor.
In the end, Keesh, who has returned to the violent ways of his people, unsheaths his knife as Su-Su bares her neck. She makes "a long, comprehensive look at life," thinking "of her children, ever to be unborn," and walks over to Keesh to say, "I am ready."
NOTE: There is an Indian named Ikeesh in the London story, "Thanksgiving on Slav Creek" (Harper's Bazaar, November, 24, 1900).An important story that was turned down by McClure's, Harper's, Everybody's, Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Pearson's, and Munsey's, then purchased for $100 by Ainslee's Magazine is "Nam-Bok the Liar" (the story was thus titled in the August, 1902 issue of Ainslee's, and "Nam-Bok the Unveracious" in Children of the Frost.)
This gem of satirical humor is a "frame story" (a tale-within-a-tale, often a first-person narration, as Naas's narration in "Odyssey of the North"), in which Nam-Bok returns to his tribe of fisher folk in the Yukon delta after an absence of many summers. His tribe is primitive, having seen only two white men — a lost Jesuit priest and a census taker — in their remembered history, and in his long absence Nam-Bok is now unaccustomed to the language, the putrid fish food, the way of life.
He tells his wondrous story of his bidarka (kayak) being blown out to sea and of being picked up by a monster canoe called a schooner, made of many trees and driven by big wings called sails. He was taken aboard the vessel, fed and given water, taught to work, and given a place to sleep. The schooner men, he said, hunted seal, threw the meat away and kept the furs.
Journeying with the white men, he told of seeing houses so tall they "shoved their roofs among the stars in the sky." He said he saw much smoke and noise in the villages and people so numerous that he could not count them by carving notches on a stick. He told of learning about money, seeing a train on rails — "a monster like unto a thousand whales. It was one-eyed, and vomited smoke, and it snorted with exceeding loudness." It was made of iron, Nam-Bok said, and fashioned by men.
His people listened to his stories, pronounced him a great liar, and invited him to depart the village "that our heads may remain clear and strong and be not troubled by unaccountable things."
He is put aboard his bidarka and as it is pushed off, Nam-Bok asks his mother to join him but she says she is old and afraid and shall soon pass down among the shadows. The story ends in one of London's magnificently evocative passages: "A stray wild-fowl honked somewhere to seaward, and the surf broke limply and hollowly on the sand. A dim twilight brooded over land and water, and in the north the sun smouldered, vague and troubled, and draped about with blood-red mists. The gulls were flying low. The off-shore wind blew keen and chill, and the black-massed clouds behind it gave promise of bitter weather."
At 6,500 words, "Li-Wan, the Fair" (The Atlantic Monthly, August, 1902) is half again the length of "The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen" and half again the superior story.
Li-Wan is a half-breed girl with only dreamlike glimmerings of her past. She travels with her husband Canim the Canoe, who believes her dreams signify a previous incarnation (in his own previous life he believes he was a moose). Li-Wan encounters two white women, Mrs. Evelyn Van Wyck and Myrtle Giddings, in a gold-camp cabin and aspires to be with them as sisters. Li-Wan utters words like table and stove, frantic to have them accept her but they see her only as a half-breed Indian girl.
“Never shall I forget! So long as my skin is white shall I remember!”
As Canim drags her from the white women's cabin he assures her she will forget her foolish belief in her dreams of a white-skinned father with golden hair. To this, Li-Wan responds, "Never shall I forget! So long as my skin is white shall I remember!"
Li-Wan does remember; she has dreams of a lost childhood, words like flapjacks, and images of a snow-tramped space among the trees, a yellow-haired man with hair on his face, and blue eyes.
"The Sunlanders" appeared in Children of the Frost (New York: Macmillan, September, 1902) with no magazine history before the book although London submitted it to McClure's, Ainslee's, Everybody's, and Saturday Evening Post. Ainslee's bought it for $100 but returned it so it could be included in Children of the Frost. London was supposed to substitute another story for it but if he did, or not, is not on record. It is long (8,000 words) and at least one of the magazines asked that it be cut.
Sagging under the weight of 1901 white race dominance, the story takes place in the village of Mandell, "on rim of the polar sea," where six white seal hunters come ashore from their ship and take up residence in Neegah's igloo, paying in sugar and flour. Neegah's daughter Mesahchie casts her fortune with "Bill-man," leader of the party.
The tribesman get together and talk of the "Sunlanders" and their wealth in flour, sugar, guns, iron tools, and knives, and how these whites have eyes for Mandell women. They decide to kill the interlopers in the village, then the others on the ship, and have a feast over their newly gained riches.
“...the vessel is blown to smithereens with everything in it destroyed.”
But the attack fails as the Mandells are driven back by the hunters' big .45-90 rifles. Seven of the natives are killed including Neegah and the whites entrench behind breastworks and beat off the attacks by the villagers. An attack on the ship fails as well when the vessel is blown to smithereens with everything in it destroyed.
The Sunlanders triumph and make a dire promise to come again "and our days shall be long in the land." Indeed, they return the next year and the village survivors go to work for the whites for a daily wage in the mines "and no white man outside the Company, which is Bill-man, Jim, and Charley, knows the whereabouts of Mandell on the rim of the polar sea."
Tyree, foreman of the Sunlanders' mine, says: "They that live under the path of the sun are not soft. For the sun enters into their blood and burns them with a great fire till they are filled with lusts and passions. . . .there is an unrest in them, which is a devil, and they are flung out over the earth to toil and suffer and fight without end. I know. I am Tyree."
In 1981, I wrote a small book for Gaslight Press, a publisher in Indiana specializing in Sherlock Holmes studies. My "monograph" (defined as "a scholarly writing, usually of essay or book length on a narrow subject"), Jack London and Conan Doyle: A Literary Friendship, sought to establish that London, in the rare instances when he wrote, or thought of writing, a mystery, used Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and his classic deductive reasoning as a model. A subject does not get much narrower than that but it was fun to do and I was then, as now, greatly interested in both London and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, contemporary men of letters who never met, but should have.
As will be seen in a later installment, London's 1911 story, "A Goboto Night," later included among the David Grief adventures in A Son of the Sun, is the best example of London's Sherlockian touch, but "The Master of Mystery" (Out West, September, 1902) is also remarkable. It is a genuine mystery, with a solution, one of the few such that Jack London wrote, and would have amused Sir Arthur as well as Holmes himself.
The story is also notable for the number of submissions (16) before Out West bought it for $15 on October 15, 1902. The rejecters were McClure's, Cosmopolitan, Era, Pearson's, Success, Collier's, Harper's, Frank Leslie's, Saturday Evening Post, Ainslee's, Everybody's, Munsey's, Smart Set, Woman's Home Companion, Lippincott's, and National Magazine.
(I have not discovered the origin of Out West magazine but in 1923 the Overland Monthly merged with it too become The Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine. The periodical folded with the July 1935 issue.)
In "The Master of Mystery," in a Thlingit village, Hooniah's prized blankets go missing. They were taken from a murdered Englishman, Hooniah had great pride in them, and they were known over the Alaskan coast from Dutch Harbor to St. Mary's. The blankets disappeared after Hooniah staked them out in the sun.
Witchcraft is suspected and word is sent to fetch Klok-No-Ton, a shaman known for his ferocity who dwelt in a neighboring village. This man arrives on the scene and after summoning Hooniah has an epileptic seizure, tears his clothes off, shrieks, leaps about, and points his deadly finger to La-lah. The trouble is that La-lah has been eight months afar with Siwash sealers and was not present in the village when the blankets disappeared.
Klok-No-Ton is disgraced, pelted with rocks, and chased to his canoe. Thereafter the villagers consult Scundoo, the village shaman who was himself in disgrace. He had promised a fair wind that the tribe might journey to a potlatch when in fact a grievous north wind blew in and destroyed three canoes. But Scundoo is clever (it was he who cleverly gave Klok-No-Ton the fatal tip accusing La-Lah) and agrees to solve the mystery.
Scundoo brings Jelchs, the Raven, and says he will place the bird under a black pot in the darkest corner of Hooniah's house. The villagers are to go in the house singly and in the dark lay a hand upon the pot for the space of one long intake of breath, Jelchs to make an outcry when the hand of the evil-doer touches the pot.
The only heretic in the village is Sime, a disbeliever in shamen and their shenanigans and a man said to be unafraid of anything, even of the dark.
The villagers file into Hooniah's hut, even the skeptic Sime, but there is no outcry from Jelchs. The villagers think the experiment has failed but Scundoo is very clever: He asks everybody raise to raise their hands above their heads and every hand is blackened with soot from the iron pot — every hand except Sime's.
He is stoned, apparently to death, despite his protests that "It was a joke! Only a joke!"
"The One Thousand Dozen" (National Magazine, March, 1903) has no relationship to the Children of the Frost tales except that it was written in the same period of time (1901) and, at 21 periodicals, was submitted and rejected even more than "The Master of Mystery." Those who saw this, London 's 70th story, were: McClure's, Frank Leslie's, Success, Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Era, Pearson's, Ainslee's (a name mentioned in the story), To-Day and Yesterday, Munsey's, Everybody's, Harper's, Cosmopolitan, Atlantic, Youth's Companion, Lippincott's, San Francisco Examiner, Scribner's, Century, American Press Association, and National.
It is worth noting that this egg plot is resurrected in "A Flutter in Eggs" (1911), one of the Smoke Bellew tales.
Here, hustler David Rasmunsen of San Francisco is a man with one idea: He will buy a thousand dozen eggs at 15 cents a dozen and sell them in Dawson, then ringing with the clarion call of the gold rush, at $5 a dozen or $5,000 in cash.
He figures $150 for the eggs, then transportation to Dyea; then, paying Indian packers, to Lake Linderman; buying a boat and taking on a couple passengers to cancel that expense; then expenses for clothes and outfit, a margin for emergencies, — "And what possible emergencies can arise?" — altogether a thousand dollars in expenditures or thereabouts. He figures in making the trip in two months, raking in $4,000 with a chance of striking it rich and coming out an entrepreneurial millionaire.
He mortgages his cottage for investment money and everything goes south after that: Chilkoot packers charge him 50 cents a pound to carry his eggs over the pass; the freeze-up of the river is coming; he discovers he has three other egg competitors; his patched-up boat is driven ashore, swamped, frozen , crushed by floes. He has to cache the eggs, loses toes in a blizzard, washes dishes to get home where he takes a second mortage on his cottage. He goes back over the Chilkoot and fights frostbite and a trail that breaks his heart. At Lake LeBarge, "when the cold of outer space smote the tip of the planet, and the frost ranged sixty and odd degrees below zero," he chills his lungs and gets a hacking cough; one of his Indian is swept to his death in the current; the dogs get into his grub at the Little Salmon and he lives on beans which gripe his stomach. By the time he reaches the Stewart, his dogs are gone and he takes to the traces, hauling with what little strength remains in a body with frozen nose and cheekbones, an injured thumb and leg.
“. . .swarmed by miners willing to pay $1.50 each for eggs. . .”
Rasmunsen reaches Dawson at last and is swarmed by miners willing to pay $1.50 each for eggs to a point where he had to stop selling them for the day, find a cabin and recuperate. He buys a steak and some dried salmon for his dogs, and starts cooking and fixing coffee when one of his egg-buyers comes by to tell him, "Them eggs is bad."
Big Jim Murray offers $200 for the whole batch of spoiled eggs as dog food but Rasmunsen chases him away, turns his dogs loose, draws the latch on the cabin, stands on a stool on his bunk, passes a lashing over the ridge-pole, makes a noose, slips his head through, and kicks the stool out from under him.
London received a check for $27.50 while he was in Manchuria, covering the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst papers, for ""Keesh the Bear Hunter" (Holiday Magazine for Children, January, 1904), later titled "The Story of Keesh." It is a tribal folk tale, dealing with a heroic deed by the father of the Keesh in "Keesh, the Son of Keesh" (see above). Both Keeshes were headmen of Thlunget tribe on "the rim of the Polar Sea."
This Keesh was of 13 suns, his once-honored father forgotten, he and his mother living in the meanest igloo in the village, when he rose in tribal council to complain that he and his mother were not receiving a fair portion of meat. This angered the elders — a child scolding the graybeards — and they ordered him to bed. In response he said he would never speak at council again until the elders came to him and admitted they needed him to speak; he also promised to go hunting and bring in meat and divide it fairly — "And no widow nor weak one shall cry in the night because there is no meat."
He set out with bone-barbed arrows and his father's big hunting spear and after three days returned with a burden of fresh-killed meat and told the others to take their sleds out to retrieve the rest, a she-bear and two half-grown cubs.
Thus the mystery of Keesh: he hunted alone and hunted only bear. "It is well known that there is more meat on a bear," he said. There was talk about him becoming chief, talk that evil spirits were behind his successes.
The villagers build a large igloo for Keesh and his mother, and on his next trip two young men, Bim and Bawn, follow him. They report back that Keesh dropped little round balls on the ice, the bears ate them and soon were crying aloud in pain, clawing themselves and leaping about on the ice, then falling weak and tired until Keesh could spear them to death.
Keesh told how he did the deed: a thin strip of sharpened whalebone buried in a ball of blubber. The bear ingested it, the blubber melted, freeing the spring of deadly bone.
"Because he exercised headcraft and not witchcraft, he rose from the meanest igloo to be head man of the village, and although all the years he lived, it is related, his tribe was prosperous, and neither widow nor weak one cried aloud in the night because there was no meat."
"In the Forests of the North" (Pearson's Magazine, September, 1902) is another story of the price paid when civilized white man invades the realm of the primitive — here, in the Barrens, the badlands of the Arctic.
Prof. Avery Van Brunt (a "full-blooded Saxon, and his blood was pounding fiercely through his veins to the traditions of his race") of the Geological Survey, is on expedition up one of the branches of the Thelon River with eight men, two of them voyageurs, others Crees out of Manitoba. In an uncharted Northland village, he finds a white man, asks if he is "Andrée"* and learns that the man is John Fairfax, who asks for
* The reference is to Swedish polar explorer Salomon A. Andrée (1854-1897), who in 1897, with two companions, sailed toward the Pole from the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in a leaky 97 ft. high hydrogen balloon. They disappeared. In 1930, sailors from a sealing vessel discovered Andrée's last camp and the skeletons of the balloonists on White Island, east of Spitsbergen. The story of the doomed expedition was widely publicized through the early 1900s.
a smoke and tells his story of coming from Edmonton five years past, searching for musk-oxen, and how he lost his party and outfit and, as the sole survivor, crawled into Tantlatch's village. The chief had a broken leg, which Fairfax fixed, and taught the villagers military tactics after which they conquered four other tribal villages and came to rule the land. Meantime, he reconciled himself to staying in the village: "It may be a beastly life," he says, "but at least it is easy to live. No philandering, no dallying. If a woman likes you, she'll not be backward in telling you so. . . ."Van Brunt tells him the news of the bottling up of the Spanish fleet at Santiago (during the Spanish-,American War in Cuba in 1898), of Cronje (Piet Arnoldus Cronje, a leader of the South African Republic's military forces during the Boer War), and Van Brunt meets Thom, Tantlatch's daughter, a princess, "One of the inducements, in short, to make me stay," Fairfax says.
Van Brunt tells him that the papers back home were full of his disappearance, that he had been given up for dead, and that Emily Southwaithe (apparently Fairfax's fiancee) remained unmarried but with several suitors. Fairfax, upon hearing this, decides he will go out with Van Brunt after all.
In council with the village shaman, and Keen, a young man and a favorite of the tribe, Chief Tantlatch hears arguments on whether Fairfax should stay or go. Thom wants him to stay, Keen, who loves Thom, wants the white man to go. Tantlatch decides Fairfax must stay and orders his hunters called together and others from the next village to gather. The New-Comer (Van Brunt) is permitted to go, if in peace, but to be killed if resisting.
As they attempt to escape the village, the entire party of whites, and Thom as well, is killed. As Fairfax protects the chief's daughter, Keen shoots him with an arrow "straight home to the white flesh, gleaming yet more white in the dark-armed, dark-breasted embrace."
When St. Nicholas Magazine published "To Repel Boarders" in its June 1902 issue, it introduced its legion of young readers to an up and coming American writer and London pocketed a munificent $25 from one of the most respected magazines for young readers.
According to A Critical History of Children's Literature (1953), London owed his writing career to St. Nicholas magazine: "While living a wayward life on the San Francisco waterfront," the book states, "London visited the Oakland Public Library and picked out a bound volume of St. Nicholas for 1884. A story by E.M. White in the November number, 'The Cruise of the Pirate-Ship Moonraker,' so impressed him that he decided to give up his wild life, offer his services to the state fish patrol, and learn to be a writer. His 'Cruise of the Dazzler' later appeared in the magazine."
This tidbit will be news to many Jack London researchers, but one thing is certain: landing a story in St. Nicholas, even though it paid poorly, was an honor and another sign of professional arrival.
(The magazine was launched in 1872 by the Scribner publishing house in New York. Its first editor was Mary Mapes Dodge, 1831-1905, author of Hans Brinker; or The Silver Skates, 1865. The magazine published most of the eminent writers of its era and some of the premiere artists — Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Rackham, Norman Rockwell, and Howard Pyle — as well. It ceased publication with the February 1940 issue.)
"To Repel Boarders" (originally submitted to Youth's Companion, St. Nicholas's rival for the youth magazine market, but rejected), has Bob Kellogg and Paul Fairfax sailing their 28-foot sloop-rigged yacht Mist out from Oakland to the mouth of Alameda Creek, the salt-water estuary which empties into San Leandro Bay, and talking of being born too late. Paul yearns for the time of Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh, "in the days of the sea-kings" when a boy left school and became a midshipman and cruised after Spanish galleons or locked yard-arms with a French privateer. "We're too civilized," Paul says.
Paul wonders aloud to Bob what he would do if a boat carrying armed men bore down on them — would he repel boarders? They have no weapons aboard, so, would they surrender?
“...foreign looking fellows with knitted
After seeing an anchor light in the distance, the Mist comes upon an obstacle of some kind and is becalmed. They think the hindrance a mud-flat at first but soon hear the sound of oarlocks, then two men in a boat shoot under their stern: foreign looking fellows with knitted tam-o'-shanters, bright woolen sashes, sea-boots, earrings, long knives — "For all the world they were like pirates stepped out of the pages of romance."
They are Italian fishermen and since the Mist has run over their smelt-net the fishermen try to come aboard the yacht while Bob and Paul fend them off with oars. The boys offer to pay damages but this gets them nowhere. "You break-a my net-a!" they yell in really abominable Italian-American dialect.
There is a sort of deadlock until Bob and Paul slip overboard, free up the net, and catch a wind; meantime getting the boom and its blocks over to fend off the would-be boarders.
"Now that you have had your adventure, do you feel any better?" Bob wants to know. Paul says if he doesn't have a nightmare for a week to come it will be because he can't sleep.
Neither St. Nicholas nor Youth's Companion was interested in "An Adventure in the Upper Sea" but a periodical called the Independent paid $20 for it and published it in its, May 29, 1902, issue.
The overcooked story deals with hot-air balloons, adventures of "aeronauts" parachuting from them at county fairs and exhibitions, and what happens when a boy stows away on a balloon that must be brought to the ground after passing over San Francisco Bay.
Another of the stories written in 1901 that made the rounds of ten publishers before finding a home is "Local Color" (Ainslee's, October, 1903), about a despicable, overly-erudite tramp named Leith Clay-Randolph who spent 60 days in a jail for vagrants and tramps for committing "local color" against a certain tough judge.
Clay-Randolph is sponging off a self-proclaimed intellectual named Spencer (and his wife Gunda or "Sunflower" — go figure) at Spencer's home. All that is known of Clay-Randolph is that he is from Kentucky (where there were, one imagines, but a few enormously intellectual men with hyphenated names in 1901), that he is a self-proclaimed denizen of "the Road," and that he speaks in impossibly erudite persistently annoying flowery phrases as he tells his story.
He says that in a certain nameless city ("wherein men slaved for dollars and women for dress") he got the idea, being tapped out, of bearding the editor of a local newspaper, the Clarion, and showing this person a tramp sketch. The editor, named Spargo, was impressed after reading Clay-Randolph's maiden effort, especially coming from a man who said he was "one of the dispossessed, a sansculotte, a proletarian. . .a tramp."
Spargo hires the bum to write a sketch, nothing "high and flighty philosophi-cal," he says, "no slumgullion about political economy nor social strata or such stuff," but "concrete, to the point, with snap and go and life, crisp and crackling and interesting. . ." And, Spargo emphasizes, "Don't forget the local color!"
So Clay-Randolph takes a wad of copy paper down to the railroad yards and its side-door Pullmans and writes a story, not forgetting a certain police court judge named Sol Glenhart, "the most notorious in local trampdom. . . ." In the article, a protest against the maltreatment of the tramp, Judge Glenhart is described as a "civic sinner" and a "judicial highwayman" "possessing the morals of the Tenderloin."
After reading the article and paying $30 for it, editor Spargo wants to hire Clay-Randolph but the tramp refuses the job and spends the cash on booze with a group of tramp pals — "blowed-in-the-glass stiffs" — after which they are arrested by the constables and lined up in court for sentencing before — what, you guessed it? — Judge Sol Glenhart.
The judge questions the tramp-author, critiquing his recent story in the Clarion and its abundance of local color, then finds Clay-Randolph guilty of local color and fines him the $30 he got from the story or 30 days imprisonment. Since the bum has spent the money, he goes to jail with another 30 days added, wisely, one thinks, by the judge, for "wasting your substance."
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